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Wooster considering ordinance to charge, fine homeless people who refuse shelter

Posted: 5:13 PM, Nov 27, 2018
Updated: 2018-12-17 22:05:05-05

The city of Wooster is considering an ordinance that would charge homeless people with a minor misdemeanor if they refuse to go to a shelter.

The proposal was introduced to city council on November 19 and will be considered at the next meeting scheduled for December 3.

City Law Director John Scavelli said police could not issue a citation to a homeless person unless there is shelter space readily available to the individual in need, an offer has been made to transport the person to the shelter, and the officer requests or orders the person to refrain from the alleged violation.

In addition, a citation could not be given if a person is restricted from staying at shelters.

A first offense of the "use of available shelter facilities" ordinance could result in a fine up to $150. There would not be any jail time for a minor misdemeanor.

However, a second offense within one year would be a fourth degree misdemeanor carrying up to 30 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $250.

The proposed ordinance came about, in part, after downtown Wooster businesses raised concerns about homeless people possibly causing disturbances.

Scavelli understands some will question how the homeless would pay fines and whether the proposed law would have any teeth, but stressed this is more of a health and safety concern.

"We're not looking at it from a teeth standpoint. We're looking at it as way to go out and gauge, talk to people, and get them into available shelter space. Sometimes people don't know about the shelter space that's available to them," Scavelli said.

Scavelli explained it would be cruel and unusual punishment to criminalize homeless if they had nowhere to go, but said that's not how the ordinance is written.

"We believe that it's not criminalizing the homeless because the people that we're talking about have shelter space available to them."

Cory Kalis and Tabitha King are both homeless and staying at the Salvation Army Shelter in Wooster.

They have different opinions on whether people living on the streets should face charges for refusing to go to shelters.

Kalis supports the idea.

"If you refuse to go to a shelter, you're refusing the help and if you're refusing the help, you're giving up and why should get the freedom to go bother other people actually tying to be part of society?" Kalis said.

But King feels the proposal goes too far.

"It's the criminalization of the whole situation. It's just putting people who can't afford to have a place to live obviously right now with criminal charges, fines and costs," she said.